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Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Qatar Airways chief urges India to open skies up to competition

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Akbar Al Baker

Expressing a “keen interest” in expanding Qatar Airways’ reach in India, the airline’s CEO has urged Indian politicians to stop blocking competition from entering the market.

Speaking at a press conference in the UAE yesterday to mark new flights to Sharjah and Dubai World Central Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC), Akbar Al Baker said, as quoted in the National:

“India is a huge country. It is an economic giant. It has potential that very few countries have. Unfortunately, the government regime does not allow free access to the Indian market.

I hope that the new government in India will revisit the aviation regime in India and look at the interests of the Indian people and not the interests of politicians.”

Qatar Airways currently operates flights to 13 Indian cities. Last year, the airline reportedly sought permission from the government to triple its weekly seat quota to India from 24,800 to 72,600.

That decision is still pending, though the carrier’s regional competitors seem to be making inroads with similar requests.

Other plans

During Saturday’s press conference, Al Baker also stressed how important the opening of the new Hamad International Airport would be for the region. Last week, he said the much-delayed HIA would open its doors by the end of June for travelers using budget airlines.

Meanwhile, addressing rumblings of discontent from competing American and European airlines, and the possible imposition of new traffic rights restrictions there, the CEO said that he didn’t think such a move would happen in the US, due to free trade policies.

Alluding to GCC airlines’ billions of dollars worth of business deals with European company Airbus, he continued:

“If western European countries bring some restrictions, they will also lose a lot of business. They will lose a lot of visitors from the Gulf.

If a restriction happens for the sake of argument – it will not happen – Emirates, Qatar Airways, Etihad, and Air Arabia, we all get together and cancel airplane orders. Do you know what will happen to the European economies?”

Meanwhile, Qatar Airways is also applying for a US “pre-clearance” post similar to one that opened in Abu Dhabi this year, the Wall Street Journal reports. The UAE facility was much decried by American pilots who said it gave Gulf carriers an unfair advantage over their competitors.

If Qatar Airways was approved, the post would be set up in HIA, allowing passengers to go through US customs before boarding their flight, so that they could bypass the process after arriving in the states.

Such a move would facilitate the carrier’s growth in the US market, which will add three new routes to the states this year: Miami, Philadelphia and Dallas-Forth Worth.

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